Back in April, the Obama administration decided to defund the plant intended to produce mixed uranium-plutonium oxide nuclear reactor fuel (MOX) out of plutonium recovered from decommissioned nuclear weapons. This was part of an agreement struck with Russia in the 1990s to dispose of 34 tons of weapons plutonium. My read in April, and Pavel Podvig’s.
Today, predictably, Vladimir Putin withdrew Russia from the plutonium disposition agreement. Russia is manufacturing MOX fuel and using it to generate electrical power in a nuclear reactor. That could have given Russia the high ground: “We are observing the agreement and the Americans are not.” But Putin chose to demand far more than the agreement would justify. His conditions for resuming cooperation on plutonium disposition are (early translation by a reliable colleague):
- US cuts its assistance to NATO
- US revokes the Magnitsky Act
- US lifts sanctions imposed because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
- US provides compensation to any sanctioned entities and persons.
None of these is directly connected to disposing of plutonium from decommissioned weapons, and none is going to happen any time soon. The US and Russia still have plenty of weapons allowed by the New START Treaty, so they have no need to use that plutonium, which will stay in storage. So Russia is grandstanding. It appears that the sanctions are a very sore point.
It’s the loss of one more point of cooperation between the two countries. The US handed Russia a pretext, and Russia overplayed its hand. Good job, all!
Photo: Plutonium-gallium ingot reclaimed from a nuclear weapon (LLNL)